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SMALL is the new big

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For a little while now, Sachi and I have been peripherally involved in a new organization. We are excited today that it makes it debut and we can share it with you. Certainly if any readers are, or know of, Wisconsin businesses, we would appreciate it if you checked it out or shared the news.

The organization is called Wisconsin Business Alliance. They have a great website so I won't try to sum it all up, but here is from the "who we are" page:

WE HONOR TRADITION.
Wisconsin’s proud traditions of education, cooperation, and smart government have led to an exceptional quality of life and a strong business environment.

These traditions, combined with our strong work ethic, have positioned our rural and urban businesses, large and small, to grow our economy.

WE BUILD COMMUNITY.
We recognize that our economy, now and into the future, depends on a healthy, well-educated workforce; thriving fields, forests and waterways; and the infrastructure that unites them.Real economic freedom stems from policies that ensure a high standard of living for everyone.

Government has a valid and vital role in creating and maintaining the infrastructure that supports a resilient economy, including roads and rail lines, internet access, cultural assets, and public utilities such as power and water.

WE DRIVE INNOVATION. 
Innovation powers our modern economy. It results from mutual respect between employers and employees, and between government and private enterprise.

The public and private sectors contribute to a vibrant, innovative, and modern economy.

 

And that's it in a nutshell. If you wanted, you could stop reading right now and just go straight to the website.

Being me, I can't stop typing just yet. (And yes, I know I'm due for a regular blog post, that is coming too, just as soon as I clear a path in the office).

I know that I have talked about this in the past, but it bears mentioning in the context of this organization. One of my big disappointments in opening this business is the disconnect between how we as a nation talk about small businesses and how we as a nation treat small businesses. Again, this is not about our customers. Our customers totally understand the differences between big and small businesses, they make an effort to support us, because they know that we will do the same to them. However, I continually hear statistics about how small businesses are so valuable, how they are the backbone of the economy, how they create so many jobs, blah blah blah.I see very little in the way of organized media or political effort to back this up. The tax breaks, the specialized zoning or other bending over backwards - all that doesn't kick in until a business is able to say, "I'll be bringing X million of dollars to your local economy." Never mind that if you add up the dollars of small businesses they would be X to the factor of X in value. 

In fact, most of the small business supporting actions I see happen on a very grassroots level. They are about individual consumers and communities realizing how valuable their independent business are and getting together for something like Plaid Friday or 3/50 our own Dane Buy Local (the exception is American Express' "Small Business Saturday" which I believe is big business co-opting the small business movement, and trying to get small businesses to accept AmEx cards - which, by the way, carry rates almost double those of Visa/MC or Discover. If AmEx really wanted to support small business, they would lower their rates). But I digress. Surprise surprise.

Now, I will admit that my background is not in small business. Both of our parents worked for the University of Wisconsin. Their jobs had some element of security that comes from a state position and we bought into the romanticized notion of the pioneer businessperson, out their on their own, taking great risks, but pursuing their American Dream. I also bought into the messaging - that which the media puts out, which is often funneled through such groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Organizations such as these wield tremendous power on the state and national level and when I was not in the small business world, I was inclined to believe whatever message was being put forth by such organizations. I am still inclined to believe that politicians believe those messages, and are being trained to do so by the lobbyists that such organizations employ. (Do you know the Chamber spent $55 million lobbying in the first HALF of 2012?).

Now that I am in business myself, when I hear the media make generalized statements about the views of small businesses, half the time I think to myself, "that isn't true at all for me. Where are they getting this information!?" The reality is that small businesspeople, just like anyone else, have a range of ideas and beliefs. What is good for one business may be completely horrible for another. The messaging, however, feels like it has been captured. By whom? Captured by the people who have the time, the money, the power. Neither of these three things are something that a small business owner has in excess. No, instead, the message really seems to have been taken over by the aforementioned organizations, whose message, overwhelmingly, is in support of one particular kind of business, on the larger and more corporate scale.

Before I was in business myself, I would have believed when someone said "this will hurt small business," because, after all, what did I know? I'm less likely to believe the message nowadays. And who is behind those organizations promoting such messages?  Golly, let's see.  There is this article I just came across: Voice of Small Business is a Front. And this one: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Doesn't Speak for Me. On the whole, I doubt more and more that there is a body of genuinely small businesses behind such organizations, despite their claims.

So, I've come to the conclusion that such organizations are not only representing a single type of business, they are representing a way of doing business and living, a way which, quite frankly, doesn't seem to be the way forward for our nation. They represent a particular view of capitalism which is flawed: this pervasive idea that we have a free market (are you kidding me? would they give up their subsidies and tax breaks that give them an advantage over me? I doubt it) and this pervasive idea that they built it themselves (no matter how much time and effort I put into this business, I am NOTHING without my customers. Yet for many corporations, who are bound by shareholders and CEOs, it seems the value of their customer - and by extension, their customer's earning potential - takes a back seat). I would lump them together with the political and the other actions which seem to idealize a particular (and past) way which no longer works in a modern, global, diverse society that we have today. They definitely do not speak for me as a small business person, but they also do not speak to the kind of world that I want for myself as a woman, as a scientist, as a member of a community, as a believer in liberty and justice for all.

So, there you go, that's the way things stand as of yesterday. But today, we have a new player on the scene. Welcome, Wisconsin Business Alliance! To my mind, this organization speaks to my concerns that those other organizations brush off (or work completely against). These are my concerns about how the value of small business that everyone talks about can be translated into an actual, systemic valuing of small business. By and large, I feel like the problem is one of scale. Individually, small businesses are, well, small. They are made up of people working really really hard to pursue their dream and to build a successful business who, by and large, have very little time for anything else. Unless they are living vastly different from the way I am, they also don't have the money and power to remind politicians and reporters about their own value. Enter Wisconsin Business Alliance. Joined together, we, as small businesses, can gain much from our connections to each other, but we can also be a reminder of all the ways that we add up.  We. Add. Up. In one of the early meetings, someone said this and it really resonanted with me. To the point where I made a little logo.

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It reminds of of one of my all-time favorite Onion articles: American People Hire High-Powered Lobbyist to Push Interests In Congress. I know there are some people who would say the system is the problem, but I tend to go for working both within and outside of the system to enact change. The Wisconsin Business Alliance is one giant step towards having the broader interests of this state, as represented by its many small businesspeople, represented.

And, actually, that is the biggest thing that I gained from the events unfurling after February of last year - from the protests, from the signature collecting, from the connecting with people at our button table. That is an overwhelming sense of our solidarity and the power that we have. Power, together. We (and Wi) Add Up. And we can do great things. You can brush off my little shop as a trivial matter, but a street full of little shops brings money and visitors to the area.  You can brush off my little dream as the silly hopes of a girl wanting to make the world more creative, but when you add a bunch of silly girls together, you'd be amazed at how much we can create. You can brush off one shopper, one worker, one person, but when we join together, we can make our voices heard. It might take time, it might seem like the power and money against are insurmountable odds, but when it comes to that kind of thinking, I take refuge in the words of Gene Sharp (author of From Dictatorship to Democracy): "Dictators are never as strong as they think they are. The people are never as weak as they think they are."

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shrinky dink fun

After a little battle of wills, my wish came true. The girl, who will be turning 5 soon, has been making some really charming drawings lately. Her mother was also a drawer (how do you distinguish that from the drawer that holds socks?) at an early age, but I think these drawings have a unique and whimsical tone to them, and are especially detailed... of course, I'm not exactly unbiased.

*If you are her dad or her grandparents, maybe just stop reading right now, otherwise your Christmas present surprise will be spoiled.

Anyway, although we've had blank shrinky dink sheets in the shop for a while, I only just got around to my plan. I know you can get (and we have) shrinky dinks that you just color in, and the girl initially asked me for stencils, to the point that she was a little teary over this assignment that I gave her. But I gave her a hug and said, "here's the thing: I really really love your drawings. I think they are unique and special and I think that everyone would really like to get one of your drawings for a Christmas present." About an hour later, she came back and said she was ready to draw.

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On Sunday she drew most of the designs and we went to Mimi and Ba Poh's house to use their toaster oven. It has been a long time since I made shrinky dinks. If that is the case for you, I might recommend doing some tester ones first until you get back into the swing of things. The directions said to press a paper down on top of the shrinky dink after you got it out of the oven; that approach didn't really seem to work for me. For the most part, they flattened out just fine on their own. Also, there were a few that I left in a little bit too long. In any event, we got the desired effect. There are different things you can use for drawing on shrinky dinks. I personally like the color intensity of Sharpie markers. I feel like the markers bleed too much if you draw on the frosted side so I had the girl draw on the shiny side. Just a note: I have some shrinky dinky jewelry that someone made for me using a similar technique and the Sharpie kind of wore off after a while. I'm thinking these will get a little less use and it will be all right... though, as I type this, I'm thinking that I will see if I can't persuade the girl to make some more shrinky dinks drawing on the frosted side and see if that will hold up longer. I'd hate to lose these charming designs. And yes, I let her use the Sharpies on her own. I think a person could use colored pencils on the frosted side if they are nervous about putting permanent markers in the hands of children.

I had this idea that I would incorporate the shrinky dinks into bookmarks or necklaces for the girl to give everyone at Christmastime. And, after a conversation with someone about being single vs. being married, having children vs. not, I have to confess that I just went ahead and went to the bead store on my own. I usually bring the girl with me, and, in the past, have let her pick out beads that we make into gifts. But I was in the mood for a little me time. It's a lot more leisurely when you only have to worry what your 10 fingers are up to in the bead store... so much trouble to get into!

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After reorganizing my bead shelf, I realized how many great beads I had to play with. For the most part, I went to the bead store to get the cord, and maybe a few little treats (fish beads for the fishy themes, a few little charms). And then, still alone even though I should have let the girl work on this part as well, I spent a fun evening putting little bead charms together. I'm quite pleased with the final results. Do you have any little kids in your life? I definitely recommend this project, especially before they get the idea of what things "should" look like into their heads and change their drawing, or give it up all together because they think they can't draw.

In all we have: a turtle for her dad, a dog for one grandpa, a shark for the other, a cat for one grandma, a chickadee for the other, a mermaid for me, a mermaid with a crown for her (I will note that my mermaid does not have a crown... was that my punishment for forcing her to do this project in the first place). We didn't exactly forget her mom... but we did in that first round. But the next day she drew a girl with brown hair (took three triest to get the right color of marker), a "lellow" dress and an apron waiting at home to be shrunk.

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arrivals wednesday, ok, thursday

This week's arrivals include goodies from a variety of shopping excursions: some independent artists from the Atlanta show, some crafters from the Chicago show, an Oakland artist I saw while at the San Francisco show...

First up: more prints. Some lovely letterpress prints, as well as more Keep Calm, the popular french fry print. More dictionary prints are coming soon, as are other letterpressed messages of inspiration.

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We also received new notecards (yes, that's pretty much a constant thing. That's what happen when two card-collectors open a shop). Curly Girl cards were one of the first purchases I made for the shop, and I still love them.


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Other new arrivals include ceramic necklaces, ephemera/assemblage necklaces, and intricate cut-out wood necklaces and earrings.

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I made some shrinky dink charms with my niece and I'm thinking I could make a similar assemblage/charm necklace with the pieces that she made. It was initially hard to persuade her to do her drawings, but eventually she came around, to the point where she said, "maybe I could be one of your local artists!"

Shrinky
Our dad always says that what you love about something is also often what you hate about it; in retail, I love that every day I don't exactly know what is going to happen... and for a control-freak such as myself, that also adds some element of challenge to my day. Nonetheless, this time of year is fun in that we usually get some package or another each day.

Other arrivals include hand carved wooden stamp blocks:

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Pins and earrings cut out from old book covers:

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new books:

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And magnets from our favorite bird artist:

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And yes, we are still making buttons. Sachi asked what we were going to do after the election, but I have a feeling it will be the same as what we did after the recall: keep making buttons. After the failed recall, it turned out that most of the buttons were still pertinent. And if the Capitol police continue their constitutionally questionable behavior, there WILL be buttons. I'm already starting to work on a protest window for the fall. Last night I was trying to figure out the layout for a First Amendment print. And then this morning I came across that awesome (though profanity filled) letter from Chris Kluwe which has this line which I also might have to make into a print for the window: "This is more a personal quibble of mine, but why do you hate freedom? Why do you hate the fact that other people want a chance to live their lives and be happy, even though they may believe in something different from what you believe, or act differently from you?"

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4 years ago

All this talk about whether we are better off now than we were four years ago is making me think about what exactly I was doing four years ago.... and has conjured up many unpleasant memories. I have definitely been happier in the intervening years with Obama as President than I was in the prior 8 years with Bush as President. Just the thought of Obama representing our nation to the world makes me much happier. Of course, during the Bush years, I was working for someone else and during the Obama years I've been pursuing my dream job.

4 years ago... let's see. Anthology would have been open for 6 months. In February, when we were working to set up the shop, with windows papered over, we heard someone stop outside the door, read our explanatory signs, and tell her friend, "I give it 6 months." So, reaching the 6 month anniversary was a good mark. We were happy that we had started our store earlier in the year - we cashed out some stocks for our seed money, we were able to obtain a business loan - even though many people came in to comment on how brave we were to start a business during the recession, we had actually taken a lot of the steps beforehand and felt really fortunate in our timing. If we had waited any longer, it is entirely possible that Anthology would not exist. But we were holding our breath, believing deeply in the hope and change we had made in our own lives (starting a new business, leaving behind a very traumatic year of transition from an old job), trusting in our vision and in this community at the same time we were aware of the great risk we were taking. I was eating a lot of dinners at my parents' house, cutting way back on my personal expenditures (in keeping with the income of a new business owner...and that was before anything happened with the housing- and stock- markets), working lots of hours and feeling both stressed and blessed - taking a big risk tends to generate those feelings; any rewards and compliments are felt much more deeply even as you are putting off one bill to pay another.

Four years ago we would have been heading into our first Christmas at the shop. I look back on pictures at that time and I see how very far our store has come. My previous job in retail had mostly prepared me for Christmas, but I also feel that each Christmas since then has gotten better and better - the store has more to offer, each year there are new directions and products that I hadn't anticipated the year before. At this time of year, Sachi and I were busy making things to sell, aware that the more we made, the more money we would make. Some things haven't changed.

One of the aspects of 2008 that makes it so much worse than 2012 didn't materialize until April 2009 when I was paying my taxes. I can't remember the details exactly, there was crying on the phone to the IRS, and I think that my effective tax rate went from 25% to 37%... which seemed like I was being punished for taking the initiative to start a business which would generate sales tax and other revenues for the government. THAT was a shocker. That remains one of my biggest disappointments - that people talk about the value of small business but in many ways, on the larger scale of government and insurance and all that, there is pretty much no action to back up those words. All of my customers get it, no doubt about that, but most of the institutional structures seemed designed to benefit larger entities. Anyway, those tax matters dogged me well into 2009 as it took me most of that year to pay off April's shocking bill.

Now, I will admit that I felt Madison was cushioned somewhat from the recession, or perhaps it was just my own starry-eyed vision that cushioned me. We had the students and the state workers (though I've never really met a state worker who is rolling in dough) and we had the tourists, who tend to spend money a little differently when on vacation. Perhaps people weren't traveling as far, but the people who came from around Wisconsin, and also from Illinois and other nearby states, had a very big and positive effect on the growth of our shop. There is no doubt that the economy made things challenging, but I was also working very hard to create my own better world - to find items that would fit everyone's tighter budgets, to build upon the valuing of our independent shop and local artists, to build our business (which could pretty much only go up from 2008, our first year in business - I think most people say that it takes 3 to 5 years before your business will turn a profit so we didn't have much in the way of expectations for 2008 anyway).

Now, in 2012, our store has continued to grow each year. I made it out of the low income bracket (so low that I actually got a welfare-to-work type credit on my state taxes those first years), I am deducting taxes out of my monthly paychecks so I don't get a nasty surprise in April, I re-started making contributions to my IRA and am working back to pre-2008 levels of charitable contributions. I continue to hear compliments from customers and we trade gratitude for each others' presence and committment; all of the events of the past year have given me a very strong sense of patriotism and community and connection and love. I feel very lucky. My eyes have been opened to some things, but I think I have taken that awakening and made more positive changes in my own life, rather than feeling overwhelmed and helpless. I still believe in hope and change. But ultimately, I believe in the power of each and every one of us, as individuals, to bring hope and change into our own life and into that of others. I'm not really sure it's that healthy to pin so much onto a single person, as much as he may be the "leader of the free world." So, yes, my life is better now than it was four years ago. The thrill of starting a business hasn't faded, and I'd much rather be where I am now than back at that beginning point.

What were you doing four years ago? How is your life better? How is your life worse? And never mind what the President has to do with that, what have YOU done that makes your life better?


batik, a how-to of sorts.

I've received some questions about the batik process and thought I'd outline it in some more detail. To be totally honest, it is unlikely that we will have this as a craft table project here at the shop. It requires more space than we have at the moment and, I'm sure, makes my insurance brother-in-law cringe at the thought of hot wax and irons in customer hands, and makes any mother cringe at the thought of cloth-staining dyes. Ideally, one would have one whole table just for dyes, several outlets for several irons and hot plates, lots of clothesline for drying...

Basically, you are following traditional batik techniques but applying them to paper, instead of fabric as is the usual. This approach involves using wax as a resist - covering over areas that you don't want dyed, before going on to the dye step. I have looked around on the internet and there are many variations on the theme, including simpler, more child-friendly approaches using rubber cement or washable glue or what not. There are even some painterly mediums that are specifically used as resists by watercolorists. By contrast, this is what I consider the traditional approach to batik in that it uses melted wax.

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So, how do you batik paper?

Supplies you will need:

dye. I use iDye. Others use Procion. I have no idea how it would work with other dyes or with watercolors but since you aren't washing/wearing as clothing, the chances are pretty good that it would work with such paints as well. The main point is that the colors are waterbased and so resist the areas where wax is applied.

containers that ideally don't leak, one for each color

brushes for applying dye

beeswax

a hot plate and iron and pot and brush that you are willing to dedicate to wax use (even more so than fabric or paper scissors, a separation that I am very lazy about, I would not mix wax implements with non-wax projects).

tjantings (tools that you use to apply melted wax in more or less of a line), metal objects for stamping (items that will stay warm enough that the wax doesn't solidfy as soon as it comes into contact with them, which can be used to apply wax in patterns)

plenty of workspace

newspapers, newsprint, plastic table coverings, apron, clothesline

*You will be working with hot wax and dye which can stain skin and clothing.

Did I miss anything? I think that covers it.

Here is my set-up and materials: iDye packets, tjantings, beeswax.

iDye packets are small amounts of dye - very easy to use... they are for larger batches so for the purposes of my small Glad containers (I do not recommend these very small Glad containers. They leaked!), I really only needed a quarter to a third of each packet, and even then I felt that my dye was really really dark/intense and needed a little watering down. (For the back side of each page, since it would be visible, I used a watered-down wash of the blue color). I had about a dozen colors of dye but also kept a palatte to the side that I used for dropping different dyes together for a mixed color. Most art supply stores will have these supplies for batiking, but you can also go to Dharma Trading. The dyes were readily available at art supply stores, ditto for the beeswax; the tjantings I had to buy online.

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Skillet and pot of wax. WAX CAN CATCH ON FIRE. You must be careful while you are using it. The skillet temperature should remain below 200 degrees and any time there's just the hint of smoking, TURN IT DOWN.

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Row of Glad containers each with their own color and dedicated brush, also my map pages with the river running through it.

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Now, in the case of this specific project, I wanted the river running below everything, so I painted that on first before doing any wax work. Essentially, wherever you put wax, you will see the paper underneath. It's a weird, slightly unusual way of thinking about layers. It takes a bit of adjustment in that you are creating the white space by adding wax (instead of creating white space by doing nothing, if that makes any sense).

Unless you want to to put any color down, the first step really is to apply wax. I use the tjantings and also a brush, and a little stamp (which is actually the plastic core from the center of the cash register tape, which cannot be left alone on the skillet too long otherwise it will melt. Really, a person ought to just use metal gadgets: cookie cutters, kitchen utensils - just make sure that the part you put your fingers is protected so that you don't burn yourself). I wanted to preserve the river that I had painted, so I covered that with wax, as well as adding other lines and brushstrokes and circles and drips.

I wanted a little continuity from one page to the next so I didn't go too crazy exploring patterns, but a person certainly could. I will warn you right now that you will get little drops and blobs of wax where you weren't intending to put them - you need to have a little bit of... flexibility...as far as your end design plan.

After the wax is applied, time for the fun. To my mind, the interesting thing is the way the different color dyes interact with each other. So mostly I applied dye not sparsely, so that it was pooling and bleeding and moving around - blending in some places, but... well, I can't explain it exactly, but just playing around with color interaction. Despite the many colors that I put on, they didn't necessarily turn into mud. But again, this is the kind of thing that is imprecise and is still at an experimental level for me.

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Now, the dye must dry. If you were going to apply wax on top of dye, you would want to make sure that the surface is totally dry before doing so, otherwise the dye wouldn't stick to the damp surface; and before that last step of melting off the wax, you must make sure that the dye is completely dry. I let my pages sit overnight. At this point, a person could apply more wax and then more dye to add more layers to the pieces. Since my pages were going to be bound up in a book, I decided it would be fine not to add too much more complexity.

I do personally love the way that the dye and paper look when they are saturated with wax. To ensure this look over the entire page, you can brush the page (once dry) with wax. Today I tried a somewhat different approach because there is already wax on the page, so I just set the page on the griddle and let the existing wax melt; then I brushed it around with my wax brush, until the whole page was covered. It used a little less wax that way, which was fine since it all has to be melted off in the end. Basically, it's like the .. oil? ... of the wax, is saturating the paper, darkening it and intensifying the color, giving it a little translucency. And, once saturated, pretty much anything water-soluble isn't really going to adhere to this surface. I'm not really sure what you'd use if you were going to use these pages in a journal and want to write on them. You'd have to pick carefully.

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I think one thing that I like so much about this batik paper is the element of surprise. Even though you see your progress as you go, there's some surprise about how it is all going to turn out, something you don't find out until the end when you iron all the wax off and expose the areas that you've covered up.

Here's a close-up of some of my pages. This book is for an exhibit for the Wisconsin Book Festival, whose theme this year is "Lost and Found." I like the way maps conjure up ideas of losing and finding, the way the original map lines in the "white" area connect very directly to wayfinding, and also remind me of my geologic past (when these maps were exactly the kind I'd study and use for field work), yet another thing that is lost to me at the same time that it is always present despite my shopgirl life.

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And here's another picture of the pages which have now been ironed and are ready for the book. I'm trying to let go of my color-matching obsession. I would have been cool for the color to ebb and flow from one page to the next, but I'm mostly pleased with my rough swashes of dye.

Batik 005Once you've done all the wax and dye layers that you want, the final step is to remove all the wax, well, as much as you can. For this step, I put several layers of newsprint on my ironing board, and then sandwiched the batiked paper between two pieces of newsprint. The goal is to not get wax on the ironing board. I didn't experiment, but word is you should use clean blank newsprint - perhaps if you use newspaper the ink will come off and smudge on your paper? I bought a pad of newsprint from the art supply store. Then you iron. I use an iron that is dedicated for wax work, but you are mostly trying to get the wax off onto the newsprint. So you iron a little bit, the wax melts and soaks through the top sheet of newsprint, then you move the newsprint over to a clean area, iron some more. Keep ironing until there is no more wax melting onto the page, flipping the page over to get the back side too. Periodically change the newsprint above and below until no more wax is melting onto the paper.

If a person is really a perfectionist about their art, I'm not sure I'd recommend this particular project. But if you want to play with pattern and color, it's a great project. Have fun!


you didn't think we'd stopped making buttons, did you?

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It's true that I've been a slacker about writing blog posts, thankfully Sachi is more on top of things when it comes to button-making. Shortly after the Paul Ryan nomination, she made a series of buttons, including "I stand with the nuns, not Paul Ryan." (Speaking of, have you heard Sister Campbell speak? She is really inspiring.) In addition to the small vintage ladies continuing from the 2008 campaign, Sachi's added many more vintage catalog people including: smokin' hot women, students, teachers, social workers, librarians, dads, beer drinkers.

Thursday 087

On the one hand, as summer winds down and I've been doing some last minute bike trips around town, I am more in love with this place - this city, this country - than ever before. I know there are people who say there's no point in voting, that we as individuals have no power compared to the lobbying and the politicking that goes on in Washington.  I know that in the grand scheme of things, our small lives continue - did the life of a Bristish commoner change that much when it went from being part of the British Empire to being what it is today? I don't really think so. There are many things that we have power over, there are many ways that this country will remain the place I call home no matter who is President.

ON THE OTHER HAND, I don't think I'm alone in my very deep concern for the fate of this country, and for democracy itself. What I love best about this country - the sense of equality and possibility, its newness and openness - these are things that I feel are in grave danger at this moment. I feel confident and optimistic about the many ways that all of us will adjust to changes in economy and society, but I realize there are those who will not adjust, and there are those who are being left behind, as well as those who are stacking the decks and generally not operating in a manner that fits with Liberty and Justice for all. As Americans, I feel like we have the ideals of the liberty part down just fine, but the justice needs work. A lot of work. In many ways, I am coming to see that justice and liberty temper each other - often one's individual liberty comes at a cost to someone else's, in which case you run into issues of justice, but we must not forget that it is liberty AND justice for all. I feel very deeply that the American ideals that we hold up as a "shining beacon" around the world, are being undermined, by the very forces that Mitt Romney would advocate on behalf of - large corporations that don't consider themselves citizens of this country even as they reap the benefits of being considered "people," militarization of all foreign policy approaches, faux austerity measures (enforced in ways that selectively target the middle and lower classes), restrictions in who can participate in voting and in elected office, restrictions in who "counts" as a citizen and a worker and a "job creator" and as a human being (personhood for a cluster of cells? Excuse me, but why is no one calling for personhood for the many sperm floating around inside a man's body?!).  Argh.

All of that is to say that I AM voting, I am paying attention. I believe that Barack Obama is the best choice for the job of President. I believe we have challenging times ahead of us, but we need to face them head-on, not rely on our old ways of coping, but act mindfully in ways that will continue the American ideals that we take so much pride in. The world is changing, our country is becoming more diverse - why not embrace the many things that the many people bring to this country? Why not live up to our ideals of welcoming the poor, the tired, the hungry? Women are a part of this world and this economy; why not value their contributions? Climate change IS happening, exploring alternative sources of energy only makes sense, particuarly in a world where our power may be on the wane. We do need to address the deficit, but to do so without considering military expenditures and raising taxes, is, I believe, equivalent to shooting ourselves in the foot. We NEED a good infrastructure for this nation to continue to grow, we need our children, ALL of them, to receive education that will prepare them for this world. We cannot continue to ignore the sacrifices of our soldiers and leave them to unemployment or homelessness. Barack Obama is the best choice to steer us through this changing world.

I believe in Hope and Change. Change, which is happening always, and to assume otherwise is really ... crazy, I think. And hope, what are we if we do not have hope? Isn't that the very premise of the American Dream, that a person can hope to have a better life - not without a lot of hard work, true, but if there is hard work with no hope and no promise of improvement, it seems unlikely that will continue very long (but check back with me if there are another 10 years of Republican/corporate stratgies demanding high worker productivity while keeping wages stagnant - that, I believe, is a recipe for civil unrest).

Thursday 089

So, perhaps I should be making more phone calls, pounding the pavement, watching more commercials and debates (or instigating debates?)... my approach is to make buttons. I've made several trips to the copy shop to stock up and now we have quite an array to choose from, vintage men and women, as well as the simple black text on white. I'm quite pleased to say that in my little world, people of all ages are buying buttons; young women and men are as involved as old, and the button table is back to being a lively community/commerce center. We are closing in on 27,000 buttons sold since last February and if anyone tells you that President Obama has done nothing for anyone, feel free to tell them that he is helping to pay the rent on a little shop on State Street. Last weekend we put out this sandwich board and, if not for the fact that I feel his grumpiness would have put a damper on the day, I really wished that the Mayor could have been at our store to see how many people came into the shop, just because of our sandwich board (no, I haven't let go of that issue. It seems to have been moved to a back burner, but I am no less determined to keep our sandwich board).

Thursday 083

Sachi was asked recently if she'd be part of a commercial supporting Obama. So last night we were brainstorming what she would say. Of course, anything that I come up with cannot fit in the space of a commercial, but here's why I am voting for Barack Obama:

1. As a Christian, I believe in Jesus' words "whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do so unto me," and I believe that we have the responsibility to help our fellow human beings, to use the collective prosperity of our nation to ensure a quality of life for all. That, I believe is the fundamental role of government, and is also not something that the churches of this nation can accomplish on their own. I realize there are Christians who will say that the "least of these" must mean the fertilized egg in the womb, but at the bare minimum, I would like them to acknowledge that Jesus is as much talking of the poor, the hungry, the children, the homeless, the sick, those among us without money or power who are in our midst beyond 9 months after conception.

2. As an American, I believe in liberty and justice for all people. I think we have to uphold at home the ideals that we try to export around the world, most notably the right of all citizens to have a voice and a vote in the governance of their country. We infer that all humans are created equal but it seems we have a long ways to go before that becomes a reality.

3. As a woman, I believe that I know my own situation and my own mind better than anyone else, and I believe that I am capable of deciding how my life will be. I am personally not sure that I would have had an abortion if I was ever in such a situation, but I believe that the way to prevent abortion is to create situations where women never have to make that choice - provide access to birth control, provide education, give our young women the knowledge and power to decide that, hey, this isn't the right time for me to have children, and to do so BEFORE they get pregnant. 

4. As an aunt, I want all children to come into the world and be as lavished with love as that adorable girl is. I have seen the repercussions that people live with - their entire lives - from being brought up in ways that are careless or even downright evil. We owe all the children, not just life, but happiness, quality of life, promise of satisfying careers and prosperity that come from the simple action of devoting more energy to education than to imprisonment and punishment. Those 9 months are a miracle, no doubt, but the 90 years that follow afterwards are even more so. No child should live any part of its life feeling unwanted.

5. As an aunt and a feminist, I want my niece to have as many opportunities as if she were a nephew. I strongly believe in equality for all people. No, a woman is not equal to a man, just like a Wall Street investor man is not equal to a plumber man. I know who I'd be calling when there's trouble with my bathroom sink, and in that regards, the Wall Street investor man is sub par. Just so, all people have their strengths and their weaknesses and are incomparable, but they are PEOPLE, and they all deserve the same rights that we grant to any other person.

6. As a scientist, well, quite frankly, I can't believe anyone still thinks there's "debate" about climate change. The evidence is weighty and industries like insurance are already adjusting how they set policies as a result of human-induced effects. It is way past time for the U.S. Government to deal with this issue. The way the GOP currently shrugs off the evidence of science in all matters is truly frightening to me.

7. As a small business owner, I recognize the true job creators. It is my customers who have created my job, and have created jobs for the many artists and vendors whose work we carry. We owe our livelihoods to our customers. Every business is different, of course, but my customers are women, are middle class, are teachers, are government employees. If that is not the case for your customers, I will bet money that they are only one or two degrees of separation away from the people that I just listed. I want a President who will support MY customers and I believe that Mitt Romney is not the slightest bit interested in my customers, which pretty much matches the level of interest that I have for him.

Thursday 090I could probably go on, but there's some value in the list that comes to the top of my mind. Of that list, there are none of my beliefs that seem to intersect with those of Mitt Romney and the GOP. I don't believe that Barack Obama is perfect, but I do believe he is the better choice for the kind of country that I hope to be a part of.

 


*almost* done (batik piano hinge book)

I still have to figure out how to attach the very first and the very last pages, and perhaps do a little trouble-shooting, but otherwise, the book is done, and, happily, pretty much exactly as I had envisioned it (that's rare).

I've decided to go with "a picture is worth a thousand words" approach for this particular blog post. I promise that another blog post is coming with more information, but for now, please enjoy some shots of my batik pages and the piano-hinge book that they are becoming. A huge thanks to Katherine Engen at Valley Ridge Art Studio and to Mary Beth Shaw for sharing their expertise and the inspiration of batiking paper, and to my fellow artists in the Bone Folders' Guild who challenge me to go beyond my very basic bookmaking skill level.

Here are the pages, close-up and far away and distances in-between. There are 30-something pages in all, which trace the course of a river and have the words from Norman Maclean's A River Runs Through It: "Eventually all things merge into one and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words and some of the words are theirs." This piece will be on exhibit in Anthology's store window during the Wisconsin Book Festival in November (whose theme is Lost and Found). In itself, I feel the Maclean excerpt captures so much of what is lost and found - what the waters bring to us and wash away, the words that we find, those that we lose. The sticks are lost from trees in my parents' backyard and found by me. The maps are lost by whatever government agency thought they were expired and useless and found by me. The patterns and paths are those that are lost to one of us and found by another of us.

Fri 022Fri 023Batik 013Fri 024Batik 004Batik 012Batik 011Batik 010Batik 014Batik 015Batik 006Batik 005

For once, I thought things out in advance; since the pages were going in a book, and since the piano-hinge structure especially shows the back side of the pages, I applied a wash of watered-down blue dye to the back side of each page. There is some individual variation as colors from the front bled through, but the blue gives it some cohesion from page to page. Here is the back side of the pages:

Batik 016

Tired of page shots yet? Here are some more, anyway.
Batik 017Batik 018Batik 019
Batik 021Batik 022Batik 023
Batik 024Batik 025Batik 026


And here is the book:

Disclaimer: I've never made a piano-hinge book before and my idea of how it should be done comes from casually glancing at a few books and online pictures. So far it works, though the structure is a little wobbly. This may be because I've done something wrong. It may be because I'm supposed to weave some thread/cord along the top edge of the book, but I'm not sure I want to add that to the look of the book. It may be because I used irregularly shaped sticks instead of uniformly thin skewers as most people do. It may be for some completely other reason.

I realize it is getting to the point where the text itself is pretty much unreadable and most people will just have to trust that it says what it says it does. Writing with melted wax is a challenge and I found that some of the words didn't show up so well since they didn't have a thick enough wax line. Additionally, although I tried to position words at the edges of the page, some ended up on the chopping block, in the gutter as it were, or they have a stick running across the top of them.

All that aside, TA DA!  I'm quite proud of myself. I love the idea of the text, and the shape of the written letters. I love the different colors and the patterns, the way the original maps show through, the sticks, and the way the very many notions of lost and found made their appearance, with very little effort on my part.

Batik 031Batik 038Batik 037Batik 035Batik 039Batik 033

The back side.... well, in quilting, I found it was common to flip over my quilt and exclaim over the back side, even though it didn't take nearly as much time and effort as the front. In this case, the amount of effort is equal, and I must say that I am pleased with the inadvertent outcome (not totally by chance since I DID paint the back sides of the pages knowing this side would show.

Batik 036


Batik 032